Public Water in Chicago


As one of the largest cities on the Great Lakes, Chicago has been a leading economic and cultural force in the Midwestern United States since it was settled in the late 1700s.

With around ten million inhabitants, the metropolitan area, which is located on the shores of the freshwater Lake Michigan, is the third-largest in America. Over the years, the city has been making strides to keep quality water flowing to residents, but that does not mean that Chicago has been without problems and concerns – especially over the past few decades.

What do you know about the public water system in Chicago?

Cook County, where the city is located, is the second most populous in the US (after Los Angeles County in California), meaning that Chicago serves tap water daily to millions of residents part of the “Chicagoland” area. What’s more, the city by the lake had over 57 million visitors in 2018, making it the most popular travel destination behind New York City.

These demographics are important to consider, especially the role that public water has played in the city, a place of intense natural beauty, but also an urban area that has been plagued with corruption, violence, inequality, declining infrastructure and growing water concerns.

Jardine Water Purification Plant

When one discusses tap water in Chicago, the Jardine Water Purification Plant is surely bound to come up in conversation. The reason? It’s known as the largest water treatment plant on earth, capable of processing over one million gallons of water per minute.

Formerly known as the Central District Filtration Plant, it is at the heart of Chicago’s freshwater purification and wastewater network. Built in 1964, the Jardine Purification Plant is noted as one of the most secure locations of the Chicago metropolitan area.

In total, the plant supplies 12 massive pumping stations that cover over four thousand miles and 118 suburbs with fresh water each day. Further, according to Allan ICS, the Purification Plant has over 18K data collection points. This includes points across pumps, flows, motors, temperatures and tanks, allowing the processes to be monitored and controlled in real time, a benefit for the folks who call Chicago home.

The plant initially draws raw water from water cribs in Lake Michigan, which then is purified and pumped out to a majority of the city, mostly northern, downtown and western neighborhoods. The water cribs were designed in order to get uncontaminated water to residents in the city, in an effort to avoid sewage mixing with the fresh lake water.

Within the cribs, raw water is collected close to two hundred feet beneath Lake Michigan, which is then transported to the purification plants onshore. Although Chicago originally had close two a dozen cribs, only two are still in active use.

To deal with the southern part of the Chicago (and other remaining areas), the Jardine Purification Plant works in conjunction with the Sawyer Water Purification Plant.

In all, the two plants serve about three million residents in the city and over 100 suburbs – which amounts to just under one billion gallons of water delivered daily.

The Quality of Water in “Chicagoland”

According to the local government of Chicago, the city is “constantly monitoring and testing the quality of Chicago’s drinking water,” where the safety and quality of Chicago’s tap water is noted as their top priority. An important online resource for residents includes the Consumer Confidence Report. This provides the public with a compressive overview of the Chicago Water System and an annual average water quality data. 

Their latest report from 2018 notes that “Chicago’s tap water meets or exceeds the standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for safe, clean drinking water.” Within the report, the city notes how the Chicago Department of Water Management, also known as DWM, completes over 600,000 analyses per year of tap water.

Dealing with the declining infrastructure, Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot noted that the city replaced 100 miles of water mains in 2018, in addition to using corrosion control to minimize the risks of contaminants. Further, residential water testing is completed free of charge.

“Regardless, we know we cannot rest on our laurels,” Lightfoot notes in the report, focusing on the ideal location of the city. “Chicago is fortunate to have an unparalleled water source in Lake Michigan. We will fight hard to defend it by holding polluters accountable and supporting efforts to protect it from invasive species. An efficient water system, the protection of Lake Michigan and safe, clean drinking water for every resident is critical to Chicago’s future.”

However, given the success of the plant, as well as the proactive activities of the DWM and local government, there still tends to be some problems. It was confirmed that in 2016, nine water systems in the region exceeded the EPA standards for lead. Further, it was recently confirmed that one in five homes sampled had brain-damaging levels of lead in their water.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency also finds that Chicago is the epicenter for lead service lines in the United States. With close to 400,000 lines, this is about 75% of infrastructure – frightening news, as lead exposure leads to cancer, disease and developmental issues.

As one of the largest public water systems in the world, the Chicago metropolitan is utilizing it’s advantageous location near one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. However, the local government, residents and the scientific community must work together to ensure clean water for all.

By Mitte Team — Nov 27, 2019
The information contained in this article is provided for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be construed as health or nutritional advice.

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